Further Apart, Closer Together: Forging a Path Through Crisis
ISUZU COMMENT: ISUZU AUSTRALIA LIMITED DIRECTOR AND CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, ANDREW HARBISON
It’s a very different world we wake up to since COVID-19 spread across international borders. Many of us have lived through times of moderation before, but nothing could prepare us for the widespread economic and social disruption of COVID-19.
Following in the footsteps of devastating bushfires and droughts, Australia has received an unprecedented, multi-layered shock to both local and national economies.
It is predicted we have a long road to recovery. According to Treasury figures, Australia’s rate of unemployment is expected to double to 10 per cent by June, indicating recession will follow.
We are not alone in this scenario.
Recently released IMF modeling suggests that under the influence of COVID-19, the global economy will be in recession for over four years, until 2024 or beyond.
On the unclear and uncertain backdrop of worldwide recession, essential services and the industries supporting them come under much closer scrutiny.
During this crisis, essential services continue to provide not only the basic necessities for life, but have also become the buttress for stability against economic free fall. By default, industry that directly supports essential services will have a huge hand in keeping the nation rolling both practically and financially.
It’s hard to breathe at the peak
In responding to this challenge, our own road transport and logistics industry faces a tough and demanding task ahead.
A few of Australia’s truckies have aptly dubbed the situation a challenge of Mount Everest proportions. We have here in Australia a unique transport landscape, with a large portion of the nation heavily reliant on road vehicles to move essential goods—including food and medical supplies—while also carrying the major maintenance services of power, water and waste.
The federal government and state governments have noted that road transport will play a critical role in delivering these essential services to the country while they deal with COVID-19.
To this end, the federal government’s comprehensive suite of stimulus measures—totaling upwards of $200 billion—and in particular, the Instant Asset Write-Off, are a welcome action, providing economic relief to broader business and those road transport operators relying on capital equipment for daily operations.
For now, though, they serve a critical purpose in building business confidence along with the ability for continued investment, that will become a crucial factor in an economic rebound on the other side of this pandemic.
The thick of it
As a critical industry operating during this crisis, truck drivers are on the front line and currently dealing with a complex and evolving mix of social distancing measures, strict hygiene practices and travel restrictions that vary from state to territory.
Industry operators are processing skyrocketing volumes of last-mile home deliveries, while simultaneously managing disruption to domestic and global supply chains.
Being no stranger to the challenges of a rapidly evolving environment, transport operators in Australia have, for the most part, adapted well, with some increasing driver numbers and human resources in response.
As a commercial equipment supplier, we at Isuzu are acutely aware of the heightened responsibility to support and protect businesses, by securing a stable supply chain of vital truck parts and equipment to keep customers out there working and on the road.
The long haul
According to recent government figures, the freight and logistics industry accounts for 8.6 per cent of Australia’s GDP, employing over half a million workers—numbers that will no doubt fluctuate with the course of COVID-19. This labour force forms an integral part of the critical mass of workers generating steady income and economic stability for our country.
As social distancing and travel restrictions are maintained to protect public health, road transport will be one of the few sectors that continues to grow through demand. In fact, according to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, Australia’s freight task is projected to increase by 80 per cent up to 2030, with this rate of growth seeing freight triple by 2050.
But of course, for many, there are undoubtedly still difficult times ahead. Industries such as retail, tourism and hospitality have been hit particularly hard and will take years to recover from the effects of social distancing measures, shutdowns and their economic implications.
Taking words from the recent IMF report, there is ‘extreme uncertainty’ surrounding COVID-19, uncertainty about how long we face the immediate threat of this virus and the prolonged social and economic impacts it will have both here at home and globally.
But it’s worth reminding ourselves, it is human nature to adapt to harsh and unexpected changes in our environments. While dealing with the vital, on-the-ground issues of COVID-19, there is also real potential to build stronger and more resilient foundations for the future.
And with every big challenge, those of us in industry know that collaborating and building resourceful short-term solutions for immediate problems can only have positive long-term outcomes after the virus has run its course.